Last night, we ate at a Chinese restaurant. We do see the irony in living in a country with some of the best food in the world, yet paying good money for Chinese food; however, since we arrived here, at least eight people have said some version of, “There’s a great Chinese restaurant in Arco Felice. You’ll be living near it.” Eight people! That’s one for every week we’ve lived in Italy. The kicker was when a perfect stranger who came to pick up some of our moving boxes called me back later in the day yesterday to say, “Since you just arrived here, you may not realize you have a great Chinese restaurant down the street.” Not only have people volunteered it as a great restaurant, but they use it as a landmark when trying to tell us where other places are. We decided we needed to check it out earlier rather than later, and it did not disappoint. Food was excellent, and it was fun to see a Chinese menu arranged Italian style.
I may have already written about this, and if so, my apologies, but in Italy, meals come in courses. In medium to nicer restaurants, you order each course after finishing the first. First is your antipasti, just like an American appetizer menu. Next is primi (first) of pasta (or…if you’re at the Chinese restaurant, rice/noodles), next is secondo and is your meat and/or seafood plate. This does not come with sides. Your veggies are a separate course, which can be ordered with the secondo. If you choose a salad rather than veggies, the salad is ordered after the secondo. Next up is the best part…dolci (dessert). After all of this, the waiter brings two bottles to your table – grappa and limoncello. These are complimentary, and you sit and drink a cup or two of your digestivo. In Italian restaurants, you always pay a “coperto,” which is a cover charge for sitting down. Think of this as the tip for the busboys. It’s generally 1-2 euro per person. Meal tipping is 5-10%.
Another little note about eating out in Italy…there are lots of “bars.” Every block has one or two. A bar in Italy is completely different. It’s the coffee shop. So it’s a completely different connotation to arrange a meeting at a bar. Some (many) have only counters as you must pay extra for a table, even in a coffee or gelato shop. You decide what you want and pay the cashier. Grab the receipt and present it to the barista, telling him/her what you want to drink and which pastry you ordered. In some very busy bars, the barista ignores you until you put your .10 tip next to your receipt. But in most cases, after drinking your coffee while standing at the bar, you can leave your little coin next to the empty cup. Coffee is not some large cup of what the Italians call “brown water,” which you sit in a Central Perk type place and sip for hours while visiting with friends. Coffee is small cups of espresso, which have less caffeine than a cup of American coffee, and you enjoy them while standing at the bar socializing or down it in a couple of drinks and head off to face the rest of your day. There are strict rules for what type of coffee to drink depending on the time of day. I follow none of them. I like my cappuccino and order it all the time, even after 11am! The horror! For those who are really interested in the health benefits of coffee and Italy’s coffee culture, this is a great blog post by another blogger here in Naples: The Espresso Break: Drink Coffee, It's Good For Your Health
Another observation on life here in Naples was brought home last night in the Chinese restaurant. It’s a small place, only about 12 tables. I’d noticed this table of three young boys who looked to be about 10 years old. After half an hour or so, I realized there was no adult with them, not even one at a nearby table. They were active and clearly having a fun time together, but were behaving appropriately for a restaurant. They sat down, ordered, were drinking their Cokes out of wine glasses, sharing food, and looked for all the world like a group of elderly men enjoying an evening out. That merging of time in which I suddenly see the same scene in the past or future happens so often here, in this place where the ancient world is such a part of modern life. Nathan said he imagined these three kids sitting around playing X-box, when one of them says, “Hey, want to go out for some Chinese,” and off they go to a nearby restaurant at 9:00pm. Age 10!